Olympique de Marseille (OM), the French championship, and of course Joseph-Antoine Bell can thank the Egyptian sports authorities for having decided, in 1984, not to welcome any more foreign players for the 1985-1986 season, when that he had been playing since 1981 at Arab Contractors, a Cairo club. Without this choice, dictated by a protectionism that did not say its name, Joseph-Antoine Bell would probably never have evolved in France, in Marseilles first, then in Toulon, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne.
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“At the time, rumors suggested that the Egyptian head of state, Hosni Mubarak, liked me, and that he was going to grant me a waiver so that I could continue to play in Egypt, recalls the ex-custodian of the Indomitable Lions. I never knew if that was true. »
The interpersonal skills of journalists
During his studies in France, in the mid-1970s, Bell had played in a few amateur clubs in the Ile-de-France. But it was in Africa, at the Union of Douala first, then at Africa Sports (Côte d’Ivoire) and in Egypt that he had built a solid reputation, supporting titles and reputation. intelligent man and character in addition. During the African Cup of Nations in Côte d’Ivoire, Jean-Philippe Réthacker, French journalist at The Teamaffirms, during an interview, that he has his place in French Division 1.
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Another pen of the sports press, Jacques Thibert, of France-Football, abounds a few months later, in Cairo. “Except that he had added that he could put me in touch with people who could open a few doors for me in France, if one day I was interested in coming to play there”, returns Bell.
Lévy’s bad evening
Egypt’s decision to close its borders will precipitate matters. In the spring of 1985, Rolland Courbis, the coach of Toulon, introduced him to Jean Carrieu, then president of OM. The two men attend the match between Toulon and Marseille, and the leader explains to the Cameroonian that he does not have the budget to recruit a goalkeeper.
However, the next morning, Bell was awakened at his hotel in Toulon by a call from Carrieu, whose team is fighting to stay in Division 1, and who had obviously not been reassured by the performance of Marc Lévy, the goalkeeper of the OM. Bell travels to Marseille to discuss a possible contract for the following season. The case will be sealed a fortnight later, sans that the Marseille club does not have to pay the slightest franc in transfer compensation.
Two months later, the goalkeeper of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon made his debut in D1 during a match lost in Le Havre (0-1), but where the Norman public discovered this incredibly agile goalkeeper. “In the eyes of some teammates, before the match, I felt that they had moderate confidence in the African goalkeeper that I was,” recalls the native of Mouandé. Bell will also be noted for his assumed positions and his eloquence. These qualities will not displease Bernard Tapie, who buys the club in 1986 and promises to make it one of the best in France, then in Europe.
The Racism of the Velodrome
Between these two men with strong personalities, relations are good. “Almost every evening, he called me to get my opinion on such and such a subject, says the former goalkeeper today. In Marseille, people said that I was one of the few who could say no to him. The adventure will end in 1988, when Bell signs in Toulon.
During a match with Bordeaux at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille, morons throw bananas at him. Tapie condemns and forces French football authorities to address the issue of racism in stadiums. “When I arrived in France, people thought that a black goalkeeper could not be good, that he could not be intelligent or capable of thinking, recalls Joseph-Antoine Bell. I think I helped change them mentalities. »